Sunday, November 1, 2009

My NY Pizza Adventure, Part 3 - Keste & Artichoke Basille's

271 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 243-1500

328 East 14th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-2004

(all photos by Adam Lindsley)

The final leg of my New York immersion had me hitting two of the more recent pizzeria success stories: Keste and Artichoke Basille's.

Keste prides itself on its Neapolitan pizza, but it doesn't strictly adhere to the VPN's stringent rules, and it's all the better for it. I only had the Margherita there, but it ended up being one of the best Margheritas--and certainly the best Neapolitan-style Margherita--I've ever had.

Though the crust was fantastic, I think it really came down to the cheese and sauce with this pie. The sauce didn't hit me with the burst of TOMATO like it does on just about every other Neapolitan pizza I've eaten. It felt closer in nature to Chris Bianco's sauce, though still distinct enough to set itself apart. Simple and elegant. I thought it was amazing, and along with Keste's exceptional house-made fior-di-latte--which unlike most fresh cow's milk mozzarella was extremely flavorful--made every bite better than the last.

Yes, all the usual components of pizza greatness were present, the perfect char and airy hole structure of the soft and pliant crust, the smoky flavor of the wood-fired oven coming through loud and clear. If you're in town, I highly recommend it, and I eagerly await my next visit.

The final stop on this mini pizza tour was the much-hyped Artichoke Basille's in the East Village. Many New York food critics seem to love this place, and because it was so close to my hotel, I knew I had to see what all the fuss was about.

Artichoke Basille's claim to fame is its "artichoke slice," which is essentially a plain slice of NY-style pizza covered with a thick layer of artichoke dip. I am not kidding you. I'm not a big fan of artichoke dip at all, but I knew I had to try it. So I ordered a slice of that, a Margherita slice, and one of their Sicilian slices.

Let's just get this out of the way: that artichoke slice is an abomination. It isn't the flavor, because I actually thought the "dip" that comprised 60% of the slice was mildly tasty. No, I think it's the quantity of the dip that got to me. There's just too damn much of it, and I cannot imagine eating an entire slice of that stuff. I had only about a third of it and my stomach tilted rapidly toward the queasy side. I knew I couldn't get another bite down.

I moved on to the Margherita slice. This is your average, run-of-the-mill NY slice, very mediocre and nothing special at all. The crust is hard, brittle, and bitter, with a too-thick cornicione that breaks apart like a saltine cracker. It was the worst crust I'd seen in a long while. The one thing the plain slice has going for it is the bright, delicious tomato sauce. If only there had been more of it to counteract the bland mozz and grated parmesan on top...

The third slice I ordered blew the other two out of the water. Artichoke Basille's Sicilian slice is superb and without question the best thing on their menu. The crust is very crispy, crunchy, and unlike the NY-style slices here, has a lot of flavor (though, as you can see in the pic, mine was just a tad too blackened -- and before you ask, no, those aren't my dainty black-nail-polish fingertips holding up the slices). Even better is the copious amount of the house tomato sauce on this slice. This sauce tastes exactly like the freshest, ripest tomato on the vine, and I couldn't get enough of it. The same boring mozz and parm floated atop the red sea of goodness, but I just ignored the cheese altogether and savored every bite of that tomato sauce. They ought to think about ditching the round pies and selling this sauce in jars instead. I'd buy it.

Two of the three food critics of New York Magazine cited Artichoke Basille's Sicilian slice as their favorite pizza in NY. It's quite good, but I cannot agree with them. Instead, I must side with NYM's third critic, Adam Platt, who declared Di Fara his pizza of choice. Di Fara definitely had the best pizza I ate in New York, and absolutely worth the trek to Midwood.

If I had to rank every pizzeria I visited (because I know how much everyone loves a damn list), I'd put Di Fara at the top, followed by Keste, then Motorino, with Artichoke Basille's at the bottom, and if I knew someone was visiting the city, that's the order I'd recommend to them. You'll find something worth your while at every one of those places, which is pretty exciting, if it's any indication of the quality of the rest of New York's premier pizzerias. I can't wait to go back and try another batch.

Anyone feeling generous enough to front a plane ticket?


  1. Could not agree with you more about the brilliance of the Artichoke Sicilian slice. Their wedge pales in comparison. I also found their wedge crust to be too crunchy and chewy. My jaw muscles were exhausted from chewing.

    Also, your comments section on this page is weird. Maybe it's just Firefox, but arrow keys don't work, nor does cutting and pasting.

    Generally though, great work! Love the blog. Can't wait for more NWern news and reviews!


  2. Hi, Will. Sorry about the comments section. I have no control over it whatsoever--it's all Blogspot! Anyway, thanks for the comment and for checking out the blog.